In my last post I identified 10 modern Catholic songs that sound sacred. As expected, it turned out to be a bit controversial. For this follow up post, allow me to give 2 disclaimers:
Firstly, my ministry here at Antiphon Renewal is to assist those parishes that are in the beginning stages of rediscovering tradition. My goal is to make the activation energy required for this transition as low as possible. Our entrance antiphon hymns, for example, are an easy first step toward singing propers. Gregorian chant and polyphony are the ideal, but the reality is that many parishes are very far from this ideal. If you find yourself in a parish that uses traditional sacred music, that's fantastic. This post may not be for you. But let's have a reality check here: If you look in bulletins of churches near me, you will see standard modern OCP songs, maybe a traditional hymn, and a choral anthems. Yet 4/5 times, guess what will be missing. There was not a single note of Gregorian chant or antiphons in the whole liturgy. We can sing ethnic music, modern music, ANYTHING but chant! ANYTHING but Catholic music at Mass! How have we fallen so far? I'm sure those musicians at those churches are doing their absolute best, but the situation they inherited is very far from the ideal. So keep this in mind: I'm not recommending that all these songs be added to your repertoire. Rather, keep the ones on the list you already know as you weed out worse options and add more traditional repertoire/chant - you know, Catholic music.
Secondly, here are my criteria for assessing the sacredness of modern songs. First, let's look at what makes chant sacred. Chant is sacred text, free-floating, melody not weighed down by rhythm, text over melody, and universally beautiful (not obviously profane or secular.) So I ask myself these questions of modern songs:
A. Is the text sacred/scriptural or is it new-agey/ egocentric?
B. Is it text-first with the melody supporting and elevating the text? Bonus points if it's modal.
C. Does the rhythm support the text or dominate it/obscure it?
D. Could you write part of it in Gregorian notation without being completely ridiculous?
E. Would it still sound beautiful a capella with a choir (not that you would, but could you?), or is it keyboard/drum/guitar dependent? The voice is the primary instrument of Christian worship.
F. If you sang it at a Mass where everything else is traditional and chanted, would it fit in or stand out as contrasting/distracting?
G. Taking all of the above into consideration, is it beautiful and balanced?
Lastly, why care about this? Because sacred music glorifies God and sanctifies the people. Because God deserves our best. Because Mass needs to sound different from everyday life ("sacred" means "set apart"). Because man has not changed much in the past 2000 years and our souls NEED encounters with God in the sacred. Because inculturation does not mean baptizing whatever secular music is unique to a culture. Because the liturgy without chant is like a priest without vestments or an altar without sacred vessels.
Without further ado, here are 8 more modern Catholic songs that sound sacred:
1. Ubi Caritas, Bob Hurd, OCP. Change the word "table" in vs 3 to altar and you're good to go. We've had enough singing about tables over the last 50 years. 50 year ban on the word table starting now.
2. Come, Christ's Beloved by Martin Foster and James Quinn, OCP. It is based on the O Sacrum Convivium chant from the vespers of Corpus Christi. Authentic Catholic words like flesh, blood, priest, victim, mystery. etc.
3. I Received the Living God, Dom Clement Jacobs. Excellent text, modern harmonies, and fixes the "voice of God" problem by starting each verse with "Jesus said:" A staple for communion at my parish.
4. Draw Near, Janco, WLP. Made the honorable mention list in last post but deserves a ranking. Ancient Eucharistic text, modern harmonies, great harmonies on refrain.
5. Seek Ye first, Karren Lafferty, (C) Captiol CMG publishing. This straddles the line between modern song and traditional hymn. Easy descant sounds good and the text is scriptural. Also very easy to sing.
6. The Lord is my Light, Christopher Walker OCP. Good example of how the melody and rhtyhm support the natural flow of the psalm text. Nice SATB parts.
7. This is Jesus, Jim Cowan. If you can find an SATB version for this Praise and Worship style communion song, it can be nice.
8. Create in Me, Kendzia, OCP. Good for lent, the melody is positively chant-like. I might be ok with (gulp) a little piano accompaniment on this one.